Susan Weinstein’s business card gives her the administrative-sounding title of manager of the Employee Assistance Program at Penn Medicine Princeton Health in Plainsboro, but in truth she is as much a social and community activist as she is a supervisor. In fact she has been involved in professional counseling and mental health services for nearly 20 years.

“Employees who acknowledge their substance involvement is negatively impacting their work performance and personal relationships will participate in treatment,” she says. “Others may deny the impact of substances and go to extremes to avoid detection or treatment.”

Weinstein will be the keynote speaker at a dinner meeting of the Human Resources Management Association of Princeton (HRMA) at the Princeton Hyatt Regency on Monday, March 12, at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $45, $55 for non-members.

Weinstein was born and raised in Maryland and earned a graduate degree in clinical social work from Boston University. She credits her parents with fostering the notion of giving back to the community to she and her siblings at a young age. “My parents were very philanthropic and made it very clear that the expectation was that my brother, sister and I were expected to give back to our communities,” she says.

The credo stuck, as Weinstein’s brother is the head of grass roots organization in Uganda and her sister is a psychologist. Weinstein moved to New Jersey in 2013 and has overseen the EAP Program at Penn Medicine Princeton since 2015. “Substance abuse has an enormous impact on workplace productivity and a business’s bottom line,” she says. “Abuse is responsible for a high percentage of injuries and accidents in the workplace and can threaten public safety.”

By all accounts, the cost of getting high at work is indeed high. According to statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — (www.samsha.gov) — a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services charged with monitoring costs and treatment services for substance abuse and mental illnesses — the national economic costs of alcohol and substance abuse tops $510 billion annually. Alcohol and tobacco abuse accounts for more than half of the costs, with drug abuse rounding out the top three.

Other studies also show that while substance abuse is more prevalent among younger workers and white males, it generally cuts across all lines — racial, gender and employment status — including blue collar and white collar workers. In addition, more than three quarters of all illegal drug users are employed.

Weinstein says industries that are the most highly impacted by substance abuse include construction, hospitality industry and food service, and management. Additionally, employees in law enforcement also tend to experience high levels of stress, mental health challenges, and substance abuse. Telltale signs and symptoms of substance use and abuse among employees include, erratic behaviors, slurred speech, mood swings, and memory loss.

She says employers bear some responsibility in effectively treating an employee that has shown a noticeable decrease in things such as productivity, judgment and behavior. “If an employer notices any of those signs, it may indicate reason for a discussion with the employee,” she says. “When employers have established relationships with clinical providers, it allows the employer to actively share behavioral health risks.”

The common notion that stress at home and work is the catalyst and justification for substance abuse is readily dismissed by Weinstein. Stress, in its broadest definition, is the brain’s response to any demand or change and can be triggered by nearly anything. These changes can include positive or negative influences and may be recurring, short term or long term. Things such as a high-profile and high-pressured job, the loss of a loved one, finances, or sickness are the most common stressors.

“The expectation for employees to leave their stress at home isn’t reasonable or realistic,” she says. “Having access to professional services is the best way for an employer to support workers and others struggling with substance abuse.”

Weinstein says Employee Assistance Programs are a benefit that thousands of organizations have in place for the purpose of treating employees with personal issues. “EAPs provide clinical services for employees and are useful management tools to help guide an organization’s leadership on issues related to employees mental health and substance abuse-related issues.”

For example, Weinstein shared how an organization provided grief counseling services for workers after the tragic and unexpected death of an employee. In addition, the EAP provided financial planning services for grief stricken workers, concerned about how their families would survive the unexpected death of a provider. “Several employees shared how they were struggling with the realization that they were not prepared for financially prepared for (sudden or unexpected) end of life or unforeseen events,” she says.

Lastly Weinstein says EAP programs similar to Penn Medicine across the country are one of the most cost effective ways organizations can provide distressed employees with a private and viable alternative to the destructive path of drug abuse. “We provide a personal approach to our clients and get to know the distinct culture of each workplace and its leadership,” she says.

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